Casual Dining vs. Careless Service: A G-Chat with Service Coach Brooke Burton

Service coach Brooke Burton also writes the popular Food Woolf blog.


Brooke Burton is a Los Angeles-based service coach, with more than 20 years’ restaurant experience, who specializes in diner retention. Restaurant clients include Luna ParkSotto, and The Spice Table, We G-chatted recently regarding Alan Richman’s recent remarks about how the level of service at very hip restaurants seems to be slipping.

me: Hi Brooke!

Brooke: Hi Caroline. It’s an honor to speak with you today about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart!

me: So, you’ve heard about the kerfuffle that restaurant critic Alan Richman had at  a restaurant in New York recently that spawned an interview with Grub Street in which he accuses some unnamed-but-presumably-hip NYC restaurants of taking casual dining a bridge too far by providing careless service. I’ve seen some of this, but, thankfully, not at restaurants on OpenTable. Are you seeing any of that on the West Coast?

Brooke: Oh, absolutely. Here’s the thing — I think a lot of restaurant owners who open casual restaurants assume that giving great service in a casual way is easy. But the thing is, hospitality is an EXTREMELY difficult thing to do. No matter how casual the concept. Giving great service is an art form.

me: So, I have some theories as to the root of the problem. One is that maybe restaurant owners are hiring people who are interesting and bright, but they do not have affinity for hospitality. So, even if they fit the vibe of a restaurant, they could lack the warmth and hop-to-it-tiveness that makes great servers?

Brooke: Maybe. Hiring is key to the success of any business. But, it’s up to the owners to define what great service is, create clear expectations, and teach their staff the tools they need to give great service. Hospitality may come naturally in some, but it takes constant nurturing to grow it.

me: It’s really a customer service job at its core…

Brooke: Removing your ego — as a business practice — is not an easy concept for anyone to do.

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